Blue-Blooming Vitex and Plumbago: Butterflies
Love 'Em, Deer Don't
For indigo blossoms, butterfly habitat and deer
resistance, few plants beat Vitex and
Plumbago, two adapted bloomers recently added to the Texas Superstar
Started in 1989, the Aggie-inspired Texas Superstar program applies
Texas A & M horticultural smarts to some of our best-known plants,
developing and culturing them to be even more desirable, marketable
and successful for Texas gardens. When you see the Texas Superstar
tag, you know the plant's a good bet.
This summer Plumbago and Vitex join this elite group--like
getting their own "star" on the Lone Star State's "plant walk of fame."
Plumbago is a tender perennial with profuse blue flowers. It
loves the heat, doesn't mind our long, humid summers, and is reasonably
drought tolerant. A white-blooming version is less prolific, while blue
plumbago puts out non-stop from summer until first frost.
Disease-, pest- and deer-resistant, Plumbago is also known as
Skyflower because of its sky-blue color. It blooms even in considerable
shade. While a native of South Africa, it's well adapted
to South Texas conditions and will keep your yard full of butterflies
Plumbago responds well to pruning. It will flower profusely after
being cut back or after a growth flush, since it bears flowers on new
Vitex, our other Superstar, is also known as Texas Lilac or the
Chaste tree. A native of China and India, it naturalized throughout
the U.S., as long ago as 1670.
For people living in the warmer parts of the South, the 'Lilac
Chaste Tree' has been the shrub of choice to mimic the much beloved
lilacs that are restricted to cooler regions. It grows best in
full sun and in a location that drains well--loves the heat, and is
so tough that even the Texas Department of Transportation plants it
on highway medians.
Vitex is a spectacular butterfly-attracting plant, hummingbirds
love it, and it's deer-resistant, although bucks will brush their antlers
on its branches if the plant is allowed to grow large.
So, you're probably asking, what's
not to like about Vitex and why isn't it planted in every yard
That's where the Superstar horticulturists step in. The old Vitex
had small spikes of flowers that were pale lilac, mauve, off-white or
light pink. The blooms were small and unimpressive. Horticulturists
now have identified and tested improved varieties such as 'Montrose
Purple', 'LeCompte' and 'Shoal Creek' which have 8- to 12-inch long
spikes. These varieties will all be marketed under the name, 'Texas
The bloom spikes on these improved varieties are not only large and
beautiful, they're fragrant and provide long-lasting cut flowers.
But, once the bloom spikes have provided several weeks of spectacle,
black and dark-brown seeds result. Not only do these seeds prevent
a additional bloom spikes, they may, in some regions, produce a mutant
seedling population that will not be as glamourous as the parent plants.
What to do? Deadhead, of course. If you want to enjoy the
full monty of these spectacular blossoms you must prune the spent blooms.
Diligently. The challenge is that Vitex is extremely fast growing.
It can grow into a small tree if not cut to the ground yearly.
The seed pods of 'Texas Lilac' Vitex must be removed after
EVERY bloom cycle - it will be blooming again in less than a month.
The entire plant should be cut back to the ground EVERY winter.
If you live in an area with a large deer population, the deer rubbing
their antlers on the Vitex will "prune" the plant to the ground
for you, or at least remind you to cut the ravaged stems back.
For those who seek a medicinal plant for a SuperStar, Vitex fills
the bill. Vitex agnus castus belonged to the official medicinal
plants of antiquity and is mentioned in the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides
Other fun facts about Vitex and Plumbago:
Children often make "earrings" with the sticky Plumbago flowers
- letting them stick to their earlobes. The Plumbago bloom produces
a sticky, gland tipped hairs on the flower calyx. The seed capsule retains
the stickiness which presumably helps disperse the seed by attaching
to animals. The top of the capsule splits opens and drops the seed out.
Plumbago is used traditionally to treat warts, broken bones and
wounds. It's also taken as a snuff for headaches and as an emetic
to dispel bad dreams.
Vitex can be found in the writings of Hippocrates, 4th Century
BC. He recommends the plant for injuries, inflammation and swelling
of the spleen.
Hippocrates recommends using the leaves in wine for hemorrhages and
the "passing of afterbirth."
Vitex has also been cited for its astringent activity, and has
been recommended it for wild animal bites, swelling of the spleen and
The English name for Vitex agnus castus, "chaste tree", is derived
from the belief that the plant would suppress libido in women. In Greek
cities, festivals in the honor of Demeter included a vow of chastity
by the local women.
In Europe, the Catholic Church developed a variation on this theme by
placing Vitex blossoms of the plant at the clothing of novice
monks to supposedly suppress their libido. The common name "Monk's Pepper"
refers to the medieval belief that utilizing potions made from the berries
helped monks maintain their vows of chastity. There is nothing in contemporary
scientific literature to suggest that it actually does suppress the
CONTACT: Dr. Jerry Parsons, Professor and Extension Horticulturist: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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